If you eat too many calories or fat, your blood glucose can rise to unhealthy levels. Over time, this can cause long-term complications, including heart disease.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 7 in 10 people with diabetes over age 65 will die of heart disease.

This is why it’s so important to keep your blood glucose level in the desired range. To do this, you’ll need to make heart-healthy food choices. You may also need to lose excess weight.

A registered dietitian can help you form a new diet based on your health goals, but here are some tips to get you started on your journey.

Heart-healthy foods help lower your risk of having heart disease in the future. They do this by reducing your blood pressure, overall cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, triglycerides, and fasting blood sugar.

They may also contain high levels of antioxidants. These protect against oxidative stress and inflammation, which contribute to the development of heart disease.

In general, “heart-healthy” means:

  • low in sodium
  • low in cholesterol
  • high in fiber
  • low in saturated fats
  • free of trans fats
  • high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals

Leafy greens like spinach, kale, lettuce, and collard greens are low in calories. They’re also packed with nutrients such as vitamins A, C, E, K, and magnesium.

You can incorporate these greens into any salad. For a heart-healthy vegetarian treat, try these spinach rolls from Diabetes Strong.

Certain types of cold-water fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids. These include salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, and trout. Omega-3s promote heart health by lowering fats, called triglycerides, in the blood.

You can find dozens of heart-healthy fish recipes online, like this recipe for balsamic honey mustard salmon from OnTrack Diabetes. One of the key steps here is to bake the fish instead of frying it.

Nuts are high in heart-healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. You may want to add walnuts, pecans, peanuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, and Brazil nuts to your diet.

Aim for about five servings of nuts per week. One serving is about one ounce. Studies show that having at least five servings of nuts per week is significantly associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

Nuts are high in calories, though, so measure out your portions beforehand. One serving is about 24 almonds, 12 macadamia nuts, or 35 peanuts.

Consider replacing saturated and trans fats with healthier unsaturated fats, such as olive oil. Olive oil is high in antioxidants and may have anti-inflammatory effects that are good for heart health and people living with diabetes.

Olive oil is highly resistant to high heat and great for cooking, so you can use it in many different ways.

For snacking, choose low-fat yogurt and cottage cheese over full-fat options. Try to avoid flavored or sweetened yogurt, as these often contain a great amount of sugar. Opt for plain yogurt instead.

One snack option is low-fat plain Greek yogurt topped with berries. Blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries are high in antioxidants and low in sugar.

If you have type 2 diabetes, it’s time to ditch the white bread. Consider purchasing whole-grain bread, pasta, and brown rice instead.

Compared to refined grains, whole grains are higher in fiber. They may help reduce cholesterol, lower your blood pressure, and decrease your overall risk of heart disease.

Oatmeal makes for a great breakfast. If you want to try something new, consider a recipe that includes whole-grain farro, quinoa, or barley.

Avocados are an excellent source of monounsaturated fats, which are linked to lower levels of heart disease.

You can simply spread avocado on whole-grain toast and top with olive oil, a bit of salt, and pepper. Or, you can work avocado into many different dishes, like these flavorful turkey patties with avocado.

Vegetables should be a huge part of your new heart-healthy diet. They’re high in fiber and vitamins, and low in calories, cholesterol, and carbs.

Red, yellow, and orange vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, peppers, and squash are packed with antioxidants and vitamins.

Broccoli and carrot sticks dipped in hummus is a great snack loaded in vitamins and minerals.

Beans, lentils, and chickpeas are high in fiber and have a low glycemic index.

In a 2012 study, researchers followed people with diabetes who ate one cup of legumes daily for three months. They found that those people had greater decreases in hemoglobin A1c values and systolic blood pressure than people with diabetes who didn’t add legumes to their diet.

Beans can be easily added to soups, casseroles, chilis, salads, or dips. If you buy canned beans, choose the low-sodium option.

Herbs and spices give your food flavor without adding unhealthy levels of sodium. A low-sodium diet is important to keep your blood pressure in check.

This Persian stew with fresh herbs, for example, will excite your taste buds without the extra salt.

Start reading your food labels to make sure your salt intake remains lower than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day. Ideally, aim for no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day.

Another popular spice, cinnamon, has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity and reduce blood sugar. Try sprinkling some cinnamon on your oatmeal or yogurt for a heart-healthy boost with a little kick.

If you have type 2 diabetes, it’s a good idea to include these foods in your diet to ward off the development of heart disease. Your diabetes care team or a registered dietitian can give you more information about portion size and meal planning to set you up for a heart-healthy lifestyle.